The discovery of a strange Google search result concerning “white American doctor” went viral in mid-August as many people tested the search for themselves. Starting in early August, a few people had tweeted that when searching “white American doctor” on Google, the image results showed Black doctors. Many people wondered why that was happening and if it was a glitch in the Google search algorithm.
Here are some of the tweets pointing out the results:
The latter Twitter user also pointed out that similar results occur when searching “white woman with white baby or portraits of European people.”
Although the results are clearly not reflective of the search terms, it’s not actually a glitch or error with Google, or even a hack of the algorithm as some claimed, but rather a reflection of how content is created and how users input information online, according to Google.
The Question Was Addressed by a Google Liaison Last Year When a Similar Discovery Was Made
Google’s public search liaison, Danny Sullivan, posted about this last year when another discovery about odd search results was made. Although the original tweet was deleted, Sullivan’s response reads: “We don’t. As it turns out, when people post images of white couples, they tend to say only ‘couples’ & not provide a race. But when there are mixed couples, then ‘white’ gets mentioned. Our image search depends on heavily words — so when we don’t get the words, this can happen.”
Search Engine Journal dove further into the question and explained why the results were skewed toward showing Black doctors when searching for white ones. As they wrote, Google reflects how users search for content and how web pages are written. By exploring the top image results when searching for “white American doctor,” the outlet found that the webpages where the images were located had the keywords “white American doctor” in headings and in close proximity to the images.
To avoid this occurring, Search Engine Journal reported, content creators must understand that words near images are important as keywords that help search engines find images. As the outlet points out, these types of anomalies help content creators understand how Google ranks results and how to better optimize pages. In this case, it shows content creators that text near an image has a significant influence on how that image ranks.
The Image Results for ‘White American Doctor’ Sparked Many Jokes & Comments on Social Media
Many people took to social media to share the discovery. Some of the posts claimed the result was due to a Google hack. One Twitter user joked, “Whoever hacked google algorithm, we salute you!!!” Another person pointed out that similar results occur when searching for other professions:
Another post said, “On today’s episode of Who deserves flowers, we need to hand em over to the person who is behind what happens when you google ‘White American Doctor’ and click images.”
One person pointed out that the first image result showing a white person is someone getting arrested:
Someone pointed out a similar result on Reddit: “Then you scroll down a bit and one of the only white doctors shown is being busted and cuffed by the cops.”